When was the last time you spent the day with one of your customers?
If the answer is “I don’t know” or “never,” you’re missing out. Interacting directly with those who buy your products or services is an invaluable opportunity. An incredible chance to come face-to-face with a human being and better understand their wants, needs, desires, and everything else that ultimately affects their decision to buy from you.
Spending the day with your customers is like receiving a treasure map. They’ll show you where the “X” is – all that’s left for you to do is dig.
How can I be so sure? Because the last time I sat down with customers, a single conversation saved the company over $100 million!
Build It and They Will Come?
Just a few short years ago, while serving as the Head of Creativity and Innovation for Disney Parks, the executives handed me a major project: find a way to drive more park visits for Disneyland Paris’ 25th Anniversary Celebration. Initially, the project seemed simple, and our team immediately got to work doing what we had always done up until that point: thinking of new events and attractions that would be most appealing.
Our first discussion revolved around adding new rides. It certainly seemed like a good idea at the time. Build it and they will come. However, rides take hundreds of millions of dollars and many years to develop and build, so in the interim, we came up with another idea to drive more park traffic: a very expensive, cutting-edge new fireworks show and parade!
The team thought through everything. The theme. The design. The characters involved…all of it was perfect. And not only did we know it was perfect, but we already knew it would work. Through a series of surveys, we asked previous visitors if they would return to the park this year to experience the fireworks show and parade. The result of this extensive surveying was a resounding “Yes,” with countless participants ranking their intention to return a 10 out of 10.
With the feeling of accomplishment already upon us, we launched the new experience and waited for the traffic to roll in.
Only, it never came…
Our entire new parade and fireworks experience – the one the surveys had all but guaranteed would work – was a bust. It didn’t move the needle in the slightest! I couldn’t understand what had happened. Were all the guests we surveyed procrastinators or were they, liars? Why hadn’t they come as promised?
Needless to say, we had to go back to the drawing board.
Coming Face-to-Face with Consumers
In order to understand where we had gone wrong, our team arranged for some in-home consumer interviews. We wanted to get face-to-face with our previous guests, and better understand why they failed to show up for our expensive new fireworks and parade experience.
At first, the results were pretty typical. I asked some questions about why they didn’t visit. They gave some generic answers…too busy, too expensive, etc. However, everything changed when I sat down with a middle-aged mom whom I’ll call Catherine.
Initially, my conversation with Catherine went like all the others. But then about midway through my survey sheet, I noticed something on the wall behind her. It was a large photo of her and her young children. A dad myself, I instinctively blurted out “Cute photo, how old are your kids?”.
As it turned out, her kids were quite a bit older than they were in the photo. Yet it was this moment in time that Catherine had decided to memorialize on their living room wall. Sensing something more, I pressed her on why this particular photo had been given such prominent placement in the home. Catherine went on to explain that the photo represented a special moment in time with a special place in her heart. A moment with her family that she wanted to remember forever…
Understanding What Your Customers Really Want
With Catherine’s explanation, a whole flood of personal memories came rushing back to me. I started thinking about the time my son came to me around the holidays and declared “There is no Santa!” – and my realization that he was beginning his transition away from childhood. Or the first time when my daughter refused to hold her daddy’s hand in public because she was “too old for that”.
Thinking through these memories in this moment, I realized that for as much as parents talk about wanting to see their kids grow up to become happy, healthy adults, they aren’t telling the complete truth. Ask most parents, and they’d probably tell you that they wish their kids could stay young forever. I know I certainly had this feeling more than once.
Everything now became clear. I knew what we needed to do to succeed at the park…
Why You Must Transition from Product-Centric to Consumer-Centric
My conversation with Catherine was illuminating. Listening to her talk about why she chose to memorialize the memory of her young children with the large photo on her wall made me realize that we had approached the task all wrong. We had been thinking with a “Product-Centric” mentality, focused solely on what new offerings and benefits our product could deliver to consumers.
But our Product-Centric focus failed to deliver. What we needed to do was adopt a “Consumer-Centric” mentality.
By engaging and listening to our consumer, we discovered that driving moms to Disneyland had nothing to do with the new attractions we had to offer. It was entirely about what new memories we could create for them. How we could gift them those moments in time with their young children before it was too late.
With this realization, we scrapped the expensive fireworks show and parade, as well as plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new rides. In its place, we launched a cost-effective, modest PR campaign focused on highlighting the experience we could build for families, and the memories they’d create and hold on to forever by visiting our park.
This campaign ended up driving a 12% attendance jump for Disneyland Paris’ 25th Anniversary Celebration – which was a higher incremental sales increase than any other campaign that had been run over the last 5 years!
All because we adopted a Consumer-Centric mentality.
Why Brands Must Start Listening to Their Customers
When Walt Disney first came up with the concept for Disneyland, the vision was simple:
“[Disneyland] came about when my daughters were very young, and Saturday was always daddy’s day. I’d take them to the merry-go-round and I took them different places and as I’d sit while they rode the merry-go-round and did all these things—sit on a bench, you know, eating peanuts—I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together.”
Disney wanted to have fun with his daughters, not just watch them have fun. And so, he adopted that as his purpose for creating Disneyland – a place where families can all have fun together.
The driving force behind Disneyland was not about the fastest, biggest, newest, and most expensive rides (though those things would come naturally as the company succeeded). It was about creating memories. From the very beginning, Walt had a Consumer-Centric mindset. He knew parents like himself wanted better ways to enjoy their time together as a family. And so, he went about creating a place dedicated to just that.
As seen by the success of our Disneyland Paris campaign, returning to our roots and Walt’s vision by adopting a Consumer-Centric mindset was the best chance we had to succeed. My single conversation with Catherine created a whole new world of insights for me, my team, and the entire Disney corporation. In fact, to this day Disney Executives are now mandated to spend a certain number of days each year in the parks interacting directly with guests. Maintaining a Consumer-Centric mindset is that important to the company…
Imagine what your business can do by transitioning from a Product-Centric to Consumer-Centric mentality. The things you’ll discover. The opportunities you’ll unlock.
Your customers are ready to show you the “X” on the map. All you need to do get out there and ask them!
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